That’s it, you tell yourself. This time I’m doing it. For real!
Fed up, you make yet another commitment to yourself: Start that business, hit the gym, save more money, stop dating losers or get serious about your future.
You know you need to do it. For some reason, though, it feels impossible to muster the energy to simply get started. Don’t worry; it’s not just in your head. Getting started is hard. The secret to building and maintaining momentum lies in science.
In chemistry, you need a big burst of initial energy to start a chemical reaction. This explosion of energy is called activation energy. What does it have to do with your personal goals? Everything.
New habits and a new mindset will require a personal explosion. You’ll never feel like it; you’ll never be ready; there is no right time. Suck it up, give yourself a push and get started. Once you’ve started, it’s easy to flame out—unless you know the science-backed tricks for maintaining momentum.
1. Do something tiny every day.
This idea comes from BJ Fogg, a Stanford University researcher. When you set the bar low, it’s easier to stick to your goals. If you’ve just started trying to get back in shape, for example, forget the long workout. Instead do five minutes on the treadmill and five pushups a day. I transformed my health by simply walking for 10 minutes every day. I didn’t have an hour, but I could always find 10 minutes. When you start with something easy, you’ll see yourself win and you’ll keep going.
2. Progress must be celebrated.
Making progress in small ways doesn’t always feel like it’s making a big difference. But research from Harvard University Business School discovered that recognizing your small progress every day is the key to productivity and happiness. To make the effect even greater, reward yourself—but only in ways that actually further your goals. Topping off a 5-mile run with a bowl of ice cream is different than rewarding yourself with a deep-tissue massage.
3. Focus on the smaller number.
You can measure progress by how much you’ve done or how much you still have left to do. A study from the University of Chicago discovered that you’ll be way more motivated if you focus on the smaller of two numbers. For example, focus on the 3 pounds you’ve already lost, not the 17 more to go. Each new action feels even more impactful when compared to a smaller number.
4. Keep a “did it” list.
My son’s school uses a program called “Track My Progress” for measuring homework completion rates, and every day he can see how he’s improving. It works like magic to keep him engaged. This week, try keeping your own “did it” list. It’s the opposite of a to-do list. Fill it with every single small task you complete. Keep it in a visible place. Research proves that seeing your progress and how much you have completed will inspire you to keep pushing.
Remember, it’s all science. You need a big explosion to start a change, but it’s the tiny moves forward that will make a lasting difference.
This article originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of SUCCESS magazine.